Where Can We Find a Good Planner?
Personal references are the best way to start your search. Get several recommendations from people who seem to have a financial picture that's similar to yours; a wealthy uncle's financial planner, for example, probably isn't the right choice for you if your primary concern is, say, paying off credit-card debt. An attorney or accountant, if you have one, can also give you the names of some planners with experience that suits your needs.
If you come up short by asking around, visit the Financial Planning Association's website (www.fpanet.org), which lets you search for planners in your city with particular areas of expertise. Many financial planners work independently, some work for small firms, and others work for national networks, such as American Express Financial Advisors or Morgan Stanley.
Call prospective planners to find out what types of clients they typically accept and whether they will schedule an initial meeting for free (most do). Ideally, you'll set up face-to-face interviews with three or so planners to discuss whether your financial situation is a good fit for their expertise, says Don Blandin, president of the American Savings Education Council in Washington, D.C. "A professional understands the selection process and will answer your questions fully and honestly."
Be sure to ask the following: What are your qualifications, experience, and specialties? Who are your typical clients? Pay attention to their answers as well as your instincts. Says Blandin, "One of the most important considerations is whether you think you'll feel comfortable speaking openly with this person about your finances."
Anyone can call himself a financial planner. There's no state or federal agency that oversees this field. Most good planners have some professional accreditation indicated by an acronym following their names (see All About the Acronyms for a list). If you're unsure what a particular acronym means, ask a prospective planner what he needed to do to earn the title and what is required to keep it. For example, the designation of certified financial planner (CFP) -- the most recognized accreditation -- entails passing a 10-hour test, having at least three years of planning experience, and fulfilling continuing education requirements. Check with the agencies that issue the accreditations (either on their websites or by phone) to make sure the planners you're considering are in good standing, meaning they've participated in ongoing education and there haven't been any complaints filed against them.
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